The Future of Mail

Esther Dyson [1 2] writes:

There are two parts of mail, obviously: the back-end store and forward system, and the client side. The client used to be simply a place to present messages, and the whole function was moving documents/files/messages back and forth. But now, the back-end deals with things such as spam filtering and authentication and scaling, and the user side has expanded to include calendar and contact management, increasingly integrated.

More fundamentally, as the world becomes more real-time and connected, the virtual and increasingly the actual configuration of the system is changing. There’s a rich, complex, shared data store in the cloud, and mail is simply the passing of notifications and alerts that tell you to pay attention to/download specific items in the cloud that are new or changed or that someone wants to share with you. this creates huge challenges in version control, updating and permission management.

Mail (which may change its name) becomes not just a collaboration tool, but also a personal workflow manager. It’s the inbox not just for messages, but for applications, for RSS feeds, for IMs and voice messages, and of course it helps manage (and integrate) SIP phone calls, too.

The real value of the new mail, though, will be attention management rather than content management. In an iterative process based on explicit user instructions and watching of user behavior, mail will start to know what you want to see now, what you want to see later (and when), and what you want to see never.

Craigslist vs Classifieds

OJR (Mark Glaser) asks: “Craig Newmark started the community site as a hobby, but it soon became a San Francisco area institution for selling cars, getting jobs and finding sex. But just how much has it eaten into newspapers’ traditional classifieds business, and can they win that back?”

Started nearly 10 years ago by soft-spoken software engineer Craig Newmark, Craigslist went from a small e-mail list of local events and parties to become a national and international phenomenon providing local residents with a cheap, simple way to sell junk, find a new job, or find a mate quickly. And as it has grown to encompass 45 cities — with more to come — Craigslist has resisted buyout offers and paid advertising while becoming a powerful alternative to daily newspaper and alternative-weekly classifieds — especially in its hometown.

I stopped by the funky whitewashed basement and Victorian flat offices of Craigslist recently, and chatted with Newmark, whose eyes flitted to his computer screen from time to time to monitor activity and complaints that come streaming into his inbox. Though the staff has grown to 14, including a recent customer service manager, Newmark still spends 40 hours per week helping to deal with scams, community problems and other customer service details.

The only income the site gets is from for-profit companies that run job listings in the San Francisco Bay Area, though Newmark said he is considering charging for similar job listings in New York City and Los Angeles. Though many people assume that the site is a nonprofit because of the dot-org in its name, it is a private, for-profit site that does not share its financial information with the public.

Newmark told me that many of the ads on Craigslist wouldn’t be placed in newspapers at all, and come from a hipper online audience. Liddy Manson, vice president and general manager of jobs, cars and real estate for Washingtonpost.com, says that sites like Craigslist and eBay focus on consumer-to-consumer transactions, while the Post’s bread and butter is business-to-consumer ads from car dealers, real estate brokers and recruiters.

“As far as I can tell, Craigslist has really taken over the classifieds business in San Francisco, and it’s not there in (Washington) D.C.,” Manson told me in a phone interview. “That doesn’t mean it’s not going to mature and grow and become more than it is today. It’s only been in D.C. for 14 months. There’s no doubt that Craigslist is making us think about our business differently, and making us think about what the hot buttons are for this community — both in terms of what people are buying and selling, but also in terms of what makes a community come together around certain types of activities.”

Microsoft and Small Businesses

Inc writes:

Today, 90% of small and midsize businesses run on the Microsoft platform, says Mika Krammer, an analyst at Gartner, a research firm. That’s a stranglehold on this enormous market of 8 million companies in the U.S. and 40 million worldwide. Globally, these companies pay almost as much for info tech — $400 billion a year — as America spends on defense. But despite its long history of dominance, Microsoft faces a looming threat from Linux and the insurgent open-source “free software” movement. Linux could do what the Justice Department couldn’t: end the era of Microsoft’s near monopoly and strip a sizable chunk of its sales and profits in the coming decade. Many industry analysts and media critics think that Linux is more secure and reliable than Windows, a prime target for hackers. Entrepreneurs have been paying close attention to the debate. Two of their biggest role models — Amazon and Google — now rely on Linux to run their websites. At a Yankee Group conference in San Francisco in March, small-business owners commiserated with one another about Microsoft’s disappointing customer support and their dislike of paying licensing and upgrade fees. They griped about how Microsoft’s new releases often seemed more like beta software — test versions with plenty of kinks — than reliable finished products, and they bemoaned the software’s vulnerability to viruses and the constant need for patches.

Microsoft divides this huge market into two parts: The 7.5 million “small” businesses with fewer than 50 employees, with no more than 25 PCs and with a maximum of $5 million in annual revenue. The 330,000 “midmarket” companies with fewer than 1,000 employees have up to 500 PCs and up to $500 million in revenue.

The smallest businesses probably don’t have a PC network or even a professional info-tech employee. These start-ups can benefit from Small Business Center (formerly bCentral), a set of Web-based services hosted by Microsoft on its own computers. The pitch is that it’s like hiring Microsoft to be your info-tech department for a monthly or annual rental fee, usually after a 30-day free trial. First developed in 1999, the services — aimed at businesses with fewer than 25 employees — have quickly become popular, attracting more than 2 million users in the U.S., Microsoft says.

Pay Per Call

NYTimes writes:

Herding customers of local businesses to the telephone is the latest effort of search engines to attract small and medium-size advertisers, which represent a huge, and as yet untapped, market. According to Greg Sterling, an analyst with the Kelsey Group, only about 350,000 small businesses worldwide are using paid search advertising.

In recent weeks, technology companies have begun unveiling new services to further the effort. The idea behind the services is, simply enough, to direct customers from search engines to off-line businesses, where most commerce is actually conducted. The problem is not only that small businesses typically lack Web sites they can direct Internet searchers to, but they often lack the expertise or the will to prospect for customers online.

Sites could encourage calls by highlighting phone numbers with the ads that run atop or alongside search results, but since Google, Yahoo, FindWhat and others have no way to track a customer’s call to the advertiser, they cannot prove they deserve a fee for helping make the connection.

As an alternative, search engines could adopt the Yellow Pages approach, where advertisers pay a monthly fee to display a phone number. But one reason these sites have been so popular with Internet advertisers is that they charge fees only when a customer engages with the advertiser. (In online parlance, this is the “pay for performance,” or “pay per click” model.)

New offerings from companies like Ingenio and eStara, though, offer the search sites a way to tabulate calls generated by searches. Ingenio was the first to announce an agreement with a search marketing company of significance, when it signed a deal with FindWhat in April.

The Ingenio service, which is to begin this summer, relies on old technology: toll-free numbers. When a user types in a search for, say, plumbers in Tucson, FindWhat’s advertisers will display a dedicated toll-free phone number that Ingenio has secured on the advertiser’s behalf. (Advertisers will eschew Web addresses in their ads.)

When the customer calls the number, Ingenio registers the event and charges the advertiser whatever fee the advertiser had bid for the right to appear near the top of the search listings. Ingenio and FindWhat then share that fee according to a revenue split that neither company would disclose.

The buck does not stop there. FindWhat then shares its fee with the search engine on whose site the ads actually appear.

Adam Bosworth Interview

eWeek (Steve Gillmor) interviews BEA’s Adam Bosworth on its Liquid Computing Initiative. Excerpts:

Fundamentally, I said, look, the problem our customers are having is there are fewer and fewer developers available to them, because they’re outsourcing and they’re off-shoring. They’re being asked to keep the systems up more and more, which means that even if there were developers, it’s harder and harder for them to make changes because they have to bring the systems down when they do it.

There are more and more changes being demanded of them more and more rapidly because they’re under the pressure to respond more and more rapidly to business events. And they’re unhappy. And if we’re going to make them happy we’re going to have to move away from thinking about the IDE [integrated development environment] as the center of the world and move toward what I call a business console as the center of the world, where more and more work gets done from a very smart business user at the console and less and less work gets done by a programmer writing code.

Now that I’ve just laid that out, what does that mean? What does it mean in terms of enterprise computing? There are different pieces to it. One thing I laid out was something called a message bus. This is what is involved in Project Quicksilver.

On Demand Computing Fabric

Jeff Nolan blogs from the Accel/SNRC symposium. Some interesting comments from Bill Coleman of Cassatt:

– where we came from: the computer model has been extended over 4 generations, nothing has really been replaced. The last wave set the stage for distributed computing.
– where we are: huge hype period, it will take a decade to happen. The “Whole Product Concept” has not been realized. Current hype on grid and network computing benefits vendors more than customers.
– 2 dislocations are coming, neither has hit inflection point. Grid is the first because it overturns the economics of hardware, but the economics are not currently there because the interconnects are still expensive. Over the next few years the experience will be sufficient to commoditize the expensive interconnects.
– the 2nd dislocation is the software. Loosely coupled web services enable the policy and business process to be disconnected from the underlying apps. This will undermine the economics for the customer, which will force an undermining of the incumbants.
– if this is a commodization business, only the commodity players win. 3 horizontal apps silos, customer side, supply chain, and ERP. These apps will dis-integrate.
– large storage and switch vendors will have to live on leaner margins. Turnover is coming that will reconfigure the industry.
– challenges in the SOA space are significant. It’s not simple, it’s not excepted as standards, small players need to come together in a platform play, and it’s not scaling yet.
– the network needs an operating system that is insensitive to scale, provide virtualization for storage, lan and apps, set business driven policy

Jeff Nolan thinks about the implications in another post:

It’s evident that customers want an abstraction layer between applications and hardware, this virtualization provides many opportunities for management points to proliferate. In some cases, the switch will be a port into which enterprise applications connect and integrate with other nodes on the network, shared services in the operating system, and hardware resources. In other cases, the switch point will be a management portal through which companies throttle up/down their capacity, manage resources, and implement security and policy with little operational disruption.

Just like we saw single points of management for networks and storage, it is logical to assume that management points for applications will proliferate.

The evolution to application grids enables the promise of grid computing, at least in terms of dramatically undermining the current economics of computing today.

The above summary is a technical disruption that will greatly evolve the way that enterprises deploy and manage applications, but it’s not a recipe for how they buy or pay for them. In fact, the limitation in existing grid models is the povisioning and billing; how do customers know what they are paying for, or even how much they are getting of something? It would be an unnatural act for any of the incumbant vendors to put forward a model that encourages customer churn.

TECH TALK: Good Books: Realtime

Michael Cusumano writes about this software company: [It] is a good example of firm that combines horizontal and vertical market segmentation.[It] initially developed about a dozen back-office software packages designed to meet different horizontal enterprise functions.[It] is Europes largest software company and one of the top software companies in the world. It is SAP.

Hasso Plattner was one the team of five that founded SAP in 1972. A story in Business Week (July 23, 2001) traced Plattners early days:

Born in 1944 in Berlin, Plattner’s earliest memories are of sailing with his parents, Horst and Inge, on the lakes around the rubble-strewn city. His father, an eye surgeon, did not fight in the war. Still, there was a sense of peril. Plattner remembers seeing British jets landing with provisions during the 1948 airlift that broke Russia’s Berlin blockade, and he saw one plane crash. Rather than becoming fearful, he grew up confident. “I’m a Berliner–fast, loud, obnoxious, industrious, brutally open,” he brags.

The battler in him emerged during adolescence. After his parents divorced, he was sent at age 15 to a strict, military-style boarding school in Bavaria. It was like moving from Manhattan to Texas overnight. “I had to become a street fighter,” he recalls during a recent dinner of beef-cheek ravioli at Babbo, a trendy New York restaurant. Despite jet lag and an overstuffed day of meetings, Plattner is full of energy. His eyes grow wide and he fingers scars on his wrist and hand as he tells how upperclassmen picked on him because he was a city slicker. “Once I pushed a big guy into a glass cabinet, and it shattered. I still have the scars,” he says.

Other early influences shaped Plattner’s career. He worshiped John F. Kennedy. “He had a vision,” Plattner says, shifting into a nasal Boston accent to mimic Kennedy’s voice: “We want to get to the moon in 10 years.” For a kid growing up in beaten-down Germany, Kennedy represented the promise of a new, can-do era. When Kennedy was shot, Plattner was devastated. “I couldn’t believe it,” he says. “I went to bed and listened to the radio.” Plattner followed in the footsteps of a grandfather and studied engineering–intent on being where the action was.

The future, it turned out, was to be built on electronics. In college, Plattner studied telecommunications, since a computer science program wasn’t available. Upon graduating, he got a job as a sales consultant for IBM in Mannheim, Germany. That didn’t last long. He left with four colleagues in 1972 to form SAP after they were rebuffed by IBM when they suggested creating a financial-software package for corporations. Their novel idea: to replace expensive custom applications with off-the-shelf packages. Since then, Plattner has been the company’s cheerleader and visionary, mapping out technology and strategy while the original chairman, Dietmar Hopp, managed the business. Plattner became the No. 1 executive in 1998 when Hopp resigned and has remained SAP’s spark plug.

SAPs vision of the real-time enterprise is well on its way to being realised for the worlds largest organisations. SAP has faced many challenges during its existence, but it has conquered them all and emerged stronger each time. Plattner has laid a very strong foundation which the next generation of leaders is now building upon.

To commemorate his 60th birthday, SAP has published a book Realtime as a tribute to Hasso Plattner. From the description and review on the website:

In the book, 30 well-known colleagues, customers, and partners put forward their ideas on the subject of the realtime enterprise, and in doing so, pay tribute to a vision that Plattner and his companions have been forming since the foundation of SAP and, thanks to their software, have already had some success achieving. In a realtime enterprise, business processes are largely automated, software systems are adaptable, and all of the relevant data is available to the management at any time at the touch of a button.

This book recognizes Hasso’s accomplishments as it relates the history of the real-time enterprise and invites you to share in its future.

You’ll review SAP’s vision for real-time technology, analyze the transformation produced by client/server computing and the all-pervasive network, explore the interaction between organizational structure and the capabilities of real time, and recognize the challenge confronting user interfaces and human/computer interaction.

Finally, you will observe how the emerging nervous system of RFIDs, voice recognition, virtual collaborative environments, and other leading-edge technologies is shaping our world.

The contributors include Ravi Kalakota (Mobility Unleashed), Vinton Cerf (Everything-to-Everything Connectivity), Carly Fiorina (The Integration Story), Bill Gates (Seamless Computing, described in two pages), Michael Hammer (The Process Revolution and ERP), Vinod Khosla (The Real-Time Enterprise), Geoffrey Moore (Context versus Core in the Real-Time Enterprise), Craig Barrett (Real-Time Hardware, in a page), and Esther Dyson (Cultural Change in the Real-Time Enterprise).

Plattners dream and SAPs mission of creating real-time enterprises endures with the focus now on the last frontier the small- and medium-sized enterprises of the world.

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